Over a century ago, it was shoes, not baseball caps, that dominated conversations at the intersection of Delaware and Huron. Those conversations were not held in a corporate boardroom but rather a family dining room.
New Era Cap Co.'s flagship store on Delaware Avenue offers no evidence of the stately mansion that once stood there, but a century ago, it was the home of John and Elizabeth Blocher and their only son, Nelson.
John Blocher had little formal education, toiling on a neighbor’s farm as a small boy and later apprenticing as a tailor, but he opened a shoe and boot factory that employed more than 200 men. His company’s biggest customer was the U.S. Army at the height of the Civil War. His success allowed the family to move into the home at 168 Delaware Ave.
As local lore has it, Blocher’s only son, Nelson, fell madly in love with the family’s maid upon returning home from college. John and Elizabeth, appalled at their son’s forbidden love and afraid of scandal, sent Nelson overseas to tend to the family’s business and quickly dismissed the maid.
When he returned home, Nelson was devastated to find the maid no longer employed with his parents, and he fell into a deep depression. Nelson died in 1884 at the young age of 37 from, what many believe, was a broken heart.
His parents, distraught over the death of their only child, built a lavish mausoleum in his memory. It is found near the Delaware Avenue entrance to Forest Lawn Cemetery. The bell-shaped mausoleum was constructed of granite and glass. Peering inside, one can see, in marble, the figures of John and Elizabeth Blocher standing over their son as he lay on his deathbed. A Bible, supposedly left behind by the maid, is clutched in his right hand. An angel – long rumored to be modeled after his lover – hovers over them. It is a scene so incredibly heart-wrenching that even Mark Twain himself sought to visit the grave.
Following his only son’s death, John sought to open a home where “aging men and women may enjoy their senior years.” The Blocher Homes opened at 135 Evans St. in Williamsville. It is now a part of Beechwood Continuing Care.
Elizabeth died in 1904. John died in 1911. Following his death, the house on Delaware Avenue was sold and eventually demolished, becoming nothing more than a parking lot and filling station. The land exchanged hands several times until it was purchased by the U.S. government, and a new Federal Reserve bank was built there in 1958.
In 2006, the bank was sold to the New Era Cap Co., which, after a renovation, opened the building as their flagship store and world headquarters.